Brian Holmes on Sat, 4 Nov 2006 23:06:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Articulating the Cracks in the Worlds of Power

[Hello everyone, here is an interview that brings out the 
major stakes of the Continental Drift Seminar happening in 
New York this weekend. Details of the schedule and and an 
address for the live stream, as well as access to all the 
text mentioned here, can be found at
best to all, BH]

Continental Drift II:
Articulating the Cracks in the Worlds of Power

16 Beaver Group talking with Brian Holmes

16 Beaver: When we started thinking about doing something 
like a seminar together, a few ideas emerged:

A. We didn't want it to be a seminar in the ordinary sense, 
nor a workshop, nor a conference, nor a convergence, nor 
even a "model" for others.
B. We wanted to organize it with the minimum amount of money 
and without relying on any outside organizations, grants, or 
C. We wanted it to be the beginning of a collaboration, 
between 16beaver and Tangent University and Brian Holmes and 
other colleagues ... to explore a new way of working 
together and sharing our know-what and know-how.
D. We wanted to bring people together who have been 
associated with our respective efforts to engage over a 
longer term in actually influencing one another.
E. To combine together, even more than our past collective 
efforts, our research interests and our activities, to try 
and make sense of what is taking place around us in the name 
of ?politics? or ?economic rationality? or ?development,? 
and to find within our own practices the spaces and modes 
which might pose the greatest challenges and problems to 
?business as usual.?
F. To not be afraid to ask the most ambitious of questions, 
or to fail entirely.

Having arrived at year 2, we have a much larger number of 
collaborators and individuals who will be contributing to 
our ongoing inquiries. So these questions to you, Brian, are 
not meant in any way to reduce the voice of these inquiries 
to one spokesperson. They are instead meant to come back to 
some of the points of departure we shared and to explore 
both the theoretical concerns as well as the organizational 

In relation to the ideas we were exploring in the first 
year, what would you outline as the main theses?

Brian Holmes: Well, of course there are different levels, 
analytic and metaphorical, poetic and political, all 
entangled in the title, "Continental Drift." And since we've 
tended in our work together to be strict, sociological and 
painstakingly historical, with an obsessive attention to 
economics, infrastructure and ideology, I'd like to turn 
that all upside down for a change and begin with the 
poetics. On the one hand, the title evokes geology, plate 
tectonics, the geohistorical splitting of great landmasses, 
the telluric shifts that rip continents apart, the 
incredibly powerful and violent energies coursing through 
the world today. It's a name for immensity. On the other 
hand, it immediately recalls something intimate and 
experimental, the situationist practice of drifting, of 
losing yourself, of abandoning conventional purposes and 
rationalized coordinates to seek out radically different 
orientations in experience, but on an unexpected planetary 
scale - as though you could wander across entire regions, 
spanning the gaps between worlds, or spiraling weightlessly 
through civilizations. So it's a name for intimacy in 
immensity. At the same time, without any possible escape, 
the overblown image of continental drift tends to deflate 
into its opposite, something familiar or downright banal: 
the basic condition of global unification by technology and 
money, where it's possible for privileged individuals to 
move freely but ignorantly about the earth, like taking the 
train across town for a buck and a quarter. So if you weave 
all those sensations together, the whole thing speaks of 
fault-lines in an overwhelming global unity, and of the 
elusive quest for a direct experience of a split reality. As 
though you could embrace the movement of a world that falls 
apart, as though you could embody the splintering cracks, 
the bifurcations, the shattering, and on the far side, begin 
understanding what it will be like to have to pick up the 

16B: OK, so what about the economy, the sociology, that 
obsessively analytic dimension?

BH: What we managed to explore last year was above all a 
single thesis, drawn from the history of political economy: 
Karl Polanyi's notion of the "double movement." This refers 
to the fundamental paradox of capitalism, which by 
commodifying everything, by bringing every aspect of human 
experience under the rules of profit and reinvestment, at 
the same time provokes a defensive reaction of breakup, of 
escape, whether through withdrawal and autarky, warlike 
aggression, or the search for a better alternative. Polanyi, 
whose major work is called The Great Transformation, is 
really an ecological thinker. He shows how the notion of the 
self-regulating market, which is supposed to assign a proper 
price to everything and thereby secure the necessary 
resources for the continual production of an ever-expanding 
range of goods, fails tragically to account for all the 
factors involved in the reproduction of land, of labor, and 
of the very institution of exchange, money itself. What 
happens instead is that careless trading in these 
"fictitious commodities" tends to destroy them, to blight 
the land, to exhaust and even kill the laborer, to ruin the 
value of the money through unchecked speculation. Polanyi 
showed how these self-destructive processes operated up to 
the First World War, how they ultimately wiped out the 
international gold standard that had been built up by 
British liberalism, and then brought on the Great 
Depression. What resulted was a division of the world into 
five rival currency-blocs, which went to deadly war against 
each other from 1938 to 1945. After the war, of course, the 
people of the world had to pick up the pieces, for better or 
worse; they had to establish new balances, new systems. 
Giving in to the history obsession, I tried to explain both 
the new basis of stability and the potential weaknesses of 
the postwar world-system that came together under the 
domination of the United States. With David Harvey's help we 
analyzed the very shaky state of that system today, with all 
the strains that neoliberal globalization is now placing on 
the world ecology, on the conditions of existence for the 
global labor force, and even on the hegemony of the US 
dollar, whose continuing status as the international reserve 
currency has never been so uncertain.

16B:  That's something we realized during the first 
sessions: empires always find a way to tax, and the US has 
done it through the dollar.

BH: Exactly. By printing more dollars for export, by 
floating more Treasury bonds, by manipulating interest rates 
to create a favorable trade conditions, even by exploiting 
huge monetary crises, like the so-called "Asian crisis" in 
1997-89. But all that finally destroys any possibility of 
cooperation. Observing the first movements toward the 
constitution of rival blocs - the emergence of the EU, of 
the Japanese-Chinese-Southeast Asian trading system, of 
NAFTA itself, of a potential socialist pole in Latin America 
around Venezuela - was a way to ask whether the "double 
movement" described by Polanyi might be repeating itself 
before our eyes. It was also a way to understand Al Qaeda's 
call for a "new Caliphate" in the Middle East as another 
defensive reaction - though a particularly desperate and 
dangerous one - to the neoliberal push for  global 
integration under highly exploitative unilateralist rules. I 
was very convinced by all those ideas, but at the same time, 
quite uncertain as to whether anyone would be ready to hear 
such things. Now, just one year later, all that speculation 
about a possibly violent breakup of the postwar world-system 
looks a lot less unlikely, after the experience of Hurricane 
Katrina, after the further decline of Iraq and Afghanistan 
into chaos, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the 
continually deteriorating situation in Palestine. Maybe we 
didn't go far enough with the geopolitics! But at another 
level, closer to everyday experience, we also explored the 
consequences of the commodification of knowledge and 
culture, which many now consider a fourth "fictitious 
commodity." As people working with knowledge and culture - 
as "immaterial laborers" - we tried to look around us, on 
Wall Street where 16beaver is located, and see what the 
pinnacle of networked symbolic exchange really entails. It's 
tremendously important to understand the degree to which all 
forms of cultural and scientific production are increasingly 
being functionalized for market exchange, whose quintessence 
is the trading of immaterial goods on Wall Street. 
Financialization means the lived experience of semiotic 
obsolescence: the fact of producing symbolic trash, numbers 
that vanish infinitely into other numbers, the 
meaninglessness of making money with money. There is no 
inherently progressive aspect to immaterial labor, and 
"Empire" is still driven and piloted by imperialist 
nation-states, above all Britain and the USA. But still 
there is a deep ambiguity in the practice of immaterial 
labor, to the extent that it too is subject to a double 
movement - or in other words, to the extent that we too can 
recoil from the pressure of total commodification of 
ourselves, and look for ways to escape, or ways to fight 
back culturally, or better alternatives for the use of our 
minds, our expressive capacities and our sensoriums. I think 
that this uncertainty over the appropriate uses of culture 
and knowledge is potentially something which can be shared 
today, even across the geographical divides.

16B:  Based on the contributions others gave last year, what 
additional questions emerged for you, if any?

BH: What emerges for me first of all is a better sense of 
the possible, of what we can really do together. Last year 
we had two separate sessions, each very intense, but 
different. The first was more formal, more difficult in a 
way, and I think whether rightly or wrongly I put out a lot 
of pressure to up the intellectual ante, to introduce a 
tremendous amount of political and economic theory into what 
have largely been artistic and activist discussions. I think 
that was important to most people, and at the same time 
there were some very good interventions by the more 
activist-minded participants, mostly people who have worked 
together in Chicago, who have learned how to cooperate on 
very risky and often very successful projects, and who 
injected some elements of group process and horizontality 
that you can easily lose sight of in a heavily arty and 
academic context like New York.

The second session was somehow more relaxed, basically 
because we had gotten to know each other, and also because 
we had established some shared vocabularies. I forget at 
which point there emerged the notion of "felt public space" 
- related, I think, to a kind of dodgy reference to the 
artist Joseph Beuys - but anyway, the phrase was definitely 
an icebreaker, and it gives a good description, not only of 
the conversations that we had in that second session, but 
also of the kind of enlarged conversations that we might get 
to this time. By pooling experiences and talking through the 
details and difficulties of work that has been done in a 
wide range of places and contexts, what emerges is nothing 
homogeneous, but an incredible texture of differences and 
open possibilities that can't be reduced either to political 
sloganeering or to discrete little rungs leading up the 
golden ladder of the art world. Instead there is just a 
world out there, the real one: and little animated bits of 
it come walking through the doors of 16beaver. After this 
excruciating year, with the new outbreak of war during the 
summer and the realization, by so many people around the 
planet, that the problems facing us are deep and vast and 
unlikely to just resolve themselves with passing time or the 
usual elections, what stands out is a heightened sense of 
the importance of speaking with other people, and of 
listening. The hope is to extend the conversations of last 
year into a network of feelers that reach out further and 
maybe touch all of us a little deeper, so that we can really 
get somewhere with all the crazy hyperstimulated global 
wandering that present-day life seems to require.

16B:  For some people, it is difficult to distinguish what 
we are attempting here from a colloquium that would happen 
say at some university or art institution. Is it important 
to differentiate?

BH: Well, the problem I have, and maybe others have it too, 
is that the formalism and the professionalism of the 
museum-university-festival circuit sometimes keeps you from 
knowing either who you are, or what you're really talking 
about. This is not to say we should close the museums, 
picket the universities, burn the libraries or go back to 
the land or whatever. But it is to say that unconventional 
and dissenting ideas don't often come out of established and 
conventional functions. And when everybody tacitly agrees 
that cultural production can only take place under the 
beneficent gaze of the market and the state, and on their 
payrolls, what you get in my opinion is very dull and timid 
attitudes combined with grotesquely simulated and overblown 
emotions. Or, from the more ambitious and professional 
types, you may get hyper-specialized discourses and 
elaborate aesthetic affects, this sort of highly valorized 
cultural production which appears irrefutable when it comes 
out of MIT or MoMA, but still doesn't seem to be what we're 
looking for.

To put it in more theoretical terms, there is no possibility 
of generating a critical counter-power - or counter-public, 
or counter-public sphere - when there is no more search for 
relative autonomy, or when the collective self (autos) no 
longer even asks the question of how to make its own law 
(nomos). So the importance of this kind of project is to use 
it as a moment of experimentation, not just in the quest for 
the perfect theory or the perfect procedure, but 
cosmologically, to rearrange the stars above your head. Such 
events don't often happen, the only solution is 
do-it-yourself. It's also part of the search for the 
outside, which has existential necessity. I think I've 
learned the most about art and social theory from 
counter-summits with lines of teargas-belching cops, and 
from those kinds of anarchist summer universities where you 
camp out for a week and have a hard time finding a shower, 
but also get to cooperate directly with people whose words 
and gestures aren't totally dissociated from their bodies 
and their actions. Well, since those moments I have felt a 
need to develop more complex discourses and experiments, but 
hopefully not more conventional and complacent ones; and it 
seems like with this project, 16beaver has been a kind of 
convergence center in many people's search for different 

16B:  Organizationally speaking, what do you think is the 
importance of these kinds of activities? Although we may be 
reluctant to employ the word model, we are positing a 
certain mode of research/practice?

BH: I guess we're positing it. I would guess that everyone 
involved in the organizing is secretly hoping that this will 
be some kind of turning point for their own practice, both 
in terms of the kind of critical research into contemporary 
society that is being proposed, and as a way to get beyond a 
certain social limit, a certain dependency on conventional 
institutions for fixing the calendars, setting the topics 
and themes, generally guiding the rhythm and focus of public 
interactions. I would guess that we're all dreaming that 
with a little extra effort, we could regain a certain 
intellectual and artistic dignity, a sense that we are 
establishing our own questions and problematics, while 
setting up experimental spaces to deal with them. I think 
this is a widely shared aspiration right now, not only for 
people who are operating autonomously and independently, but 
also for others who are pushing the limits of institutions 
and regaining the capacity to do something challenging in 
public. But it still remains to do it, to fulfill collective 
goals and get some palpable and usable results - which 
probably explains the reluctance to talk about models in the 

16B:  What is the relation between this mode of inquiry we 
are positing and the topics we are actually exploring together?

BH: For me, the relation would be in the possibility to have 
some transformative influence on the damnably complex 
reality that confronts everyone today, precisely the 
political-economic-cultural situations that we're trying to 
discuss. For example, you've probably heard me use the 
phrase "liberal fascism." What does that mean? Why should 
people involved with art and culture have to deal with such 
an idea? I've been trying to clarify the preconditions for 
liberal fascism on the psychosocial level, since I started 
my work on the flexible personality about five years ago. 
But at this point I think we should collectively define the 
concept, now that the reality exists, now that so-called 
Democrats have voted for the Military Commissions Act, which 
suspends habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, or 
even the right not to be tortured, for anyone arbitrarily 
designated an "unlawful enemy combatant." Meanwhile, in case 
you managed to forget it, a corporation named Kellogg Brown 
& Root, aka Halliburton, has been given a $385 million 
contract to establish - I'm quoting directly from their 
website - "temporary detention and processing capabilities" 
to augment existing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
facilities, "in the event of an emergency influx of 
immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid 
development of new programs." New programs? Which new 
programs? What kind of potential is hiding in that 
juxtaposition between "unlawful enemies" and domestic 
Guant?namos? Why don't people talk about it?

One thing is that there's no adequate language to describe 
what's going on. But the other problem is that defining a 
concept doesn't necessarily help you do anything about the 
reality. What used to be known as the Left in the USA has 
lost any significant capacity to move from theoretical 
definitions to effective actions. Under such conditions, 
there is really no use to go blithely ahead with utopian 
thinking, it becomes hypocrisy. But utopian thinking is at 
the very origin of cultural practice, so far as I'm 
concerned. So this is what you call a crisis, a 
life-threatening moment. We know we should all "go out in 
the streets," but when we get there, there's no there there. 
We have to create arguments so strong that they can merge 
with feelings, in order to reshape reality. By trying to 
articulate an examination of contemporary conditions with a 
cooperative, non-professional public practice, I think we 
are moving away from the self-imposed blindness and silence 
that characterizes the hypermobile, hyperproductive citizen 
under a regime of liberal fascism. But there is much more to 
be done, and I am hoping to learn more about the practices 
of making things public that different people in the group 
have been developing.

16B:  Given that in this second year, we are attempting to 
expand our questions from last year, what would you say from 
your perspective are the developments intellectually in your 
own work, discursively in terms of writings you have come 
across, and politically in the last year?

BH: Well, a year is a long time, so it may take a while to 
answer! Certainly in my own work I have pursued the inquiry 
that began with the text on "Neoliberal Appetites," which I 
presented at 16beaver last year. The point is to see how 
specific social institutions impress upon us the basic 
underlying procedure of neoliberal subjectivity, which 
consists in understanding yourself, your accomplishments and 
your own creativity, indeed your own desire, as human 
capital, to be nourished and cherished in terms of its 
potential returns on the market, and to be used as a 
measurement of the value of any kind of experience 
whatsoever. Of course, this capital is also something to be 
risked in particular ventures, the way you risk your money 
on the stock market. I think that both museums and 
universities are now doing a lot to encourage this kind of 
self-valuation among intellectuals and artists, through the 
exaltation of creativity as a productive force, and through 
the institution of intellectual property as a technique for 
reifying that force, making inventions into contractual 
"things" that can be securely owned. I have written a text 
called "The Artistic Device" to explore how neoliberal 
subjectivation takes place in the knowledge society, notably 
by examining a performance where an artist takes on the role 
of a day trader. The text also looks at a deliberate attempt 
to escape this form of subjectivation, to establish a new 
cooperative ethic and even a new imaginary, inseparable from 
the immanent experience of crossing a continent on the 
trans-Siberian train. The text ends with a Foucauldian 
analysis of a British university museum that's now under 
construction, called The Panopticon Museum. But I can 
guarantee you, this is not the same analysis of centralized 
power and internalized surveillance that has been repeated 
for the last thirty years. "The Artistic Device" is a text 
that people might want to read before our sessions. In 
addition to that I have been structuring a book on the whole 
problematic, with essays on the artists Ricardo Basbaum and 
Marko Peljhan, on the concept of swarming and its limits, on 
Felix Guattari and his schizoanalytic cartographies, as well 
as other things in the works. It's all online at the 
Continental Drift section of

Outside my work, a particularly interesting discursive event 
has been the publication of two essays by Malcom Bull, "The 
Limits of Multitude" and "States of Failure." These use the 
language of political philosophy to point to something very 
much like Polanyi's "double movement": namely an attempt to 
consolidate a World Government, which inherently fails and 
whose failure gives rise to what Bull calls the "dissipative 
structures" of a new multi-polar world. In "States of 
Failure" Bull shows the root impossibility of a world run by 
pure economics, as in the Clintonian dream of the World 
Trade Organization. Such a World Government either becomes a 
full-blown global state with military powers, or it 
dissolves, in various fashions, under the influence of 
different groups and social formations. What becomes clear 
at the end of the text, in a few amazing pages, is that this 
dissolution is already underway, and that the whole 
political question is how to keep it as peaceful as 
possible: that's where the specific character and 
orientation of the "dissipative structures" has so much 
importance. I think it can be interesting for the 
philosophically minded to read those texts before the 
upcoming Continental Drift sessions, as a way to understand 
that the issues we are dealing with here are very much those 
of our times. Bull's development of the concept of World 
Government also vindicates, in a general way at least, the 
speculative research that my friends in Bureau d'Etudes have 
been doing for years.

The main thrust of my own research, however, has been in 
another direction, spurred on by the long-term realities of 
conflict and the particularly insane war of the summer 
months. It comes partially to light in a text called 
"Peace-for-War," which I wrote for the conference series 
recorded at But I have a lot left 
to do before I can complete this argument. In order to grasp 
the strange mix, in the current American administration, 
between a kind of archaic Cold-War mindset and a very 
futurist, hi-tech practice of preemption, I have been 
looking into the early period of cybernetics, which was the 
great applied social science of the postwar period. 
Basically it's about control through negative feedback, or 
error control - like an anti-aircraft gun gradually homing 
in on its target, with the assistance of its automated 
tracking device and its human operator. This was the primary 
model for the early worldwide control systems that were 
installed after WWII, typically leaving a very reduced place 
for the human operator, as a kind of logical calculator and 
biological servomechanism nested inside the larger machine. 
The research shows how the fulfillment and closure of 
something like World Government was sought through the 
applications of cybernetic logic to city planning and to 
organizational and technological system-building at a global 
scale. But it also shows that the ambition to constitute a 
"closed world" (the title of a great book by Paul N. 
Edwards) was already overcome on the theoretical level in 
the late 1960s and early 1970s by the innovations of 
second-order cybernetics, with its emphasis on positive 
rather than negative feedback. Second-order cybernetics was 
first defined by a guy named Heinz von Foerster, who tried 
to understand all the perturbations that arise when the 
observer is part of the machine that he or she observes, and 
attempts to reorient or transform. Rather than seeking to 
preserve the balanced state of a homeostatic system, 
second-order cybernetics tries to map out how a system 
unbalances itself, alters its very parameters and rules, 
then goes through phase-changes provoked by the excess of 
positive feedback. In fact, the notion of "dissipative 
structures" would come in right here. Similar ideas were 
taken up and played out in daily life by the 
counter-cultures, as a way to break down the grip of 
monolithic control systems on our minds. I think that if you 
look back on the psychedelic "acid tests" that were done 
around San Francisco in the mid-sixties, and at the 
particular role of electronic media as a kind of delirious 
counter- or alter-information source in those experiences, 
you get a first inkling of this kind of systemic unbalancing.

Recently I've been reading a lot of texts by Felix Guattari 
to understand the deeper principles of counter-cultural 
subversion, and I think Deleuze and Guattari's work does 
exactly that: it overflows cybernetic control through an 
excess of nomadic desire, in an aesthetic equivalent to the 
kinds of guerrilla tactics that were able to overcome the 
rationalist battlefield strategies of the US imperial 
system. Much of what we think of as avant-garde art still 
tries to pursue this kind of disruptive, overflowing 
movement. However, what the strategy of subversion 
ultimately led to, when postmodern capitalism had finished 
recycling it back into a new functional pattern, was the 
optimistic emphasis on innovation and phase changes that was 
characteristic of the New Economy. Second-order cybernetics, 
reborn as complexity theory, became the master discourse of 
the 1990s, of post-modernism, of the Internet boom: it was 
the cynical reason of immaterial labor, something I already 
more or less described in "The Flexible Personality." 
Semiotic chaos was made into a productive principle, as 
becomes clear when you look at a landmark book like 
"Increasing Returns and Path Dependency in the Economy" 
published by W.B. Arthur in 1994, which specifically focuses 
on the role of positive feedback in the creation of 
financial values. But this kind of economic logic couldn't 
last, it was just too unstable. In parallel to the collapse 
of the New Economy and the World Trade Towers, what we saw 
coming to the fore, with incredible suddenness, were more 
militant versions of emergence, practiced first by the 
antiglobalization movements, then very differently by the 
networked terrorists. In the 1990s, the system believed it 
could thrive on its capacity to destabilize itself. But in 
the end, that was an illusion.

What we finally arrive at is a desperate moment where the US 
government tries to regain or prolong the paranoid fantasy 
of static control promised by the Cold-War image of World 
Government, but now through an entirely new, extremely 
dynamic strategy of "preempting emergence," to borrow the 
title of a brilliant article by Melinda Cooper, which is the 
third text I'd like to recommend. The individual's sense of 
a desiring, creative and valuable self at risk in an 
unpredictable world - in other words, the neoliberal 
appetite for self-capitalization - is paralleled on a macro 
level by a government that lashes out with its full 
hegemonic power in the attempt to annihilate risks which at 
the same time it continually re-creates, by its own 
compulsive drive to extend neoliberalism's constitutive 
instability to the entire earth. Here we have as situation 
as patently mad as the Cold War was, with all its strategic 
zero-sum games of Mutually Assured Destruction. And we see 
this new form of civilizational madness being built around 
us, in the form of the security architecture of biometrics, 
used for the computerized tracking and targeting of 
singularities on their labyrinthine paths through the 
world-space. This hyper-individualized control obsession 
underlies the liberal fascism of the Military Commissions Act.

In the face of the long-term bid by the US to achieve a kind 
of total planetary lockdown, societies in danger have 
reacted in two ways: by developing dangerous and aggressive 
forms of chaotic emergence, and by plunging into archaic 
religious identities which do not obey the rational models 
of mainframe cybernetics. In other words, they have reacted 
by risking the future and hiding in the past, which is the 
same symptomatic movement that we identified last year as 
"neolib goes neocon." The Bush administration itself has 
become at once archaic, in its dependency on a religious 
address to world populations, and hypermodern, in its 
attempt to institute a molecular surveillance of the future. 
But there's no room for a sane response on those two opposed 
planes: what we need is a way to survive and flower in a 
present that's open to becoming and alterity. So all of the 
above is just a more precise, perhaps deeper and more urgent 
way of asking the basic question: What to do in the face of 
the double movement of contemporary capitalism, with its 
disastrous consequences? Or in other words, how can we 
"subvert" (if that's still the word) a system which is so 
dramatically and dangerously failing in its simultaneous 
attempts to instrumentalize the archaic and to preempt 

16B:  Based on that response, one question is whether what 
you outline above is compatible with a multi-scale social 
ontology as proposed by some thinkers like Manuel De Landa. 
(consisting of individuals, families, groups, communities, 
neighborhood associations, social and cultural groups, 
activist groups, small and medium sized corporations, 
unions, courts, towns, cities, city councils, regional 
groups, universities, large enterprises, states, state 
governments, nations, federal governments, national 
political organizations, media organizations, lobby groups, 
ngo?s, international bodies, int?l courts, global 
corporations, conglomerates, trading blocs ....)? The 
question is not meant to undermine the proposals we have 
examined so far, nor to deny the fact that there are large 
concentrations of power in the hands of a shrinking number 
of players.  It is meant instead to demand a theoretical 
approach that does not reduce the complexity of our 
societies - an approach which makes it more plausible to 
retain spaces for contradiction as well as spaces for hope, 
for the heterogeneous  potentialities which will alter the 
course of history.

BH: Well, I definitely agree, and what we are doing together 
is predicated on that approach. But to acknowledge the 
existence of multiple actors and a multi-scalar society is 
one thing, to know what to do with it is another! The very 
quandary of democracy has always been the uncertainty of 
moving through those scales, compounded by the question of 
whether one would really want access to the power techniques 
used by the larger formations to manipulate the smaller 
ones, to homogenize them and make their actions knowable, 
predictable, steerable. The unpleasant suspicion that you 
are being steered, and the difficulty, or more often the 
impossibility, of going high enough up the ladder to 
challenge that steering effect and ask for more transparent 
decision-making procedures, is one of the things that can 
literally drive people nuts under the paradoxical regime of 
democracy, which says you are free to participate in the 
drafting and interpretation of the collective law, but then 
consistently proves the contrary. One of the traditional 
responses to this problem has been to become more 
deliberate, to participate in or actually develop structures 
which are at once larger than the immediate forms of 
face-to-face association, yet at the same time contain both 
ethical cultures and formal procedures to make sure that 
individuals and small groups still have some input. I don't 
think that kind of deliberate action should be discounted, 
and the emergence of new parties, unions, NGOs, or the 
reform of old ones, is always worth attention. That's also 
why I keep intervening in formal art institutions and 
university programs, and encouraging group interventions, 
though always from a position of relative autonomy. I admire 
tenacious people who are able to introduce change and 
experimentation on those levels, and want to contribute. But 
the present-day situation has seen a real paralysis of most 
of those structures, which becomes clear when you look at 
the paradigmatic case of the political party.

There were a lot of reasons, in the late nineteenth century, 
for individual politicians to accept party discipline, one 
of them being that the party provided a new place and a new 
set of rules for the decision-making process, outside the 
cacophony of the parliaments. So increasingly, in the 
twentieth century, policy was worked out at the headquarters 
of parties, which then confronted each other as voting blocs 
in the parliaments. Another advantage of the party was that 
it could have a broad popular membership, which proved 
essential for gathering information about what people really 
want in a democracy. And the fact of being consulted, of 
participating in workshops or surveys devoted to a 
particular issue, perhaps even of going out on the street to 
ask questions as a party member addressing a general public, 
all that helped create loyalty at the voting booth - another 
essential attraction for the politicians. But the 
professionally conducted opinion poll, then in recent years 
the focus group, gradually replaced the function of broad 
party membership as an information-gathering device; and the 
function of advertising, then of the campaign as an 
integrated spectacle, also replaced the older, more organic 
ways of motivating people's votes. So today the political 
party has everywhere become a televisual juggernaut piloted 
by a sociological research arm, which serves only to get the 
vote out once every few years, while the specialized 
political-economic deals required to raise money to pay for 
those studies and campaign extravaganzas are struck under a 
veil of ignorance and manipulated information, at levels of 
complexity which citizens are completely unprepared to 
understand. And this same kind of phenomenon also crops up 
at the municipal scale, the corporate scale, the branch 
scale in unions, the state or national scale in big NGOs and 
so on, to the point where the idea of moving freely between 
them becomes a real fiction! The need for very large actors 
to operate at the world scale and at the speeds made 
possible by modern communication and transportation finally 
makes leaders just give up the whole pretense of any complex 
give-and-take between the different groups and organizations 
you mentioned, to the point where a guy like Bush says, 
almost immediately after taking office, "If this were a 
dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so 
long as I'm the dictator." Under the pretext of urgency, 
people with that kind of mentality will actually set about 
destroying the possibility of any bottom-up relationship 
between the scales, the way the Israeli military 
methodically destroyed the brand-new civil communication and 
transportation infrastructure this summer in Lebanon, and 
over the last year or so in Gaza.

16B: This is why we wanted to add a fourth text to our list 
of shared references: a chapter from the Retort book 
"Afflicted Powers," entitled "The State, the Spectacle and 
September 11." Their book raises various critical questions 
and points where we may diverge from their analysis. But one 
interesting link to us is their discussion of the current 
regime's need both for "failed states" abroad and for "weak 
citizenship" at the centers of capitalism.

BH: Yes, the Retort book is one of the few major statements 
to have come out of radical circles in the United States. 
They make an essential point when they say that state power 
now "depends more and more on maintaining an impoverished 
and hygienized public realm, in which only the ghosts of an 
older, more idiosyncratic civil society live on." That's 
what I was describing above. Yet they tend to see the 
spectacle cracking in the wake of September 11, and I think 
that's particularly true beyond the US. September 11 and its 
consequences have brought many people to a shared 
understanding that traverses all the borders. We are 
becoming increasingly conscious that we live, not just in 
any one city or country or region, but in a world society: a 
world constantly traversed by people with multiple 
belongings, people who are acutely aware both of the 
interdependence of supposedly autonomous organizations, 
political units and sovereign power blocs, and also of the 
extreme fragility of the networks that link us all together. 
Never before has so vast a conversation and interchange been 
possible, even if it does not mean that any new 
articulations of power are necessarily emerging. What has 
emerged, despite all attempts to preempt it, is something 
like a resistance power, the power of people to block off 
the very worst, to self-organize in fundamentally negative, 
but still very joyful and cooperative ways, which I find 
extremely promising. What this seems to mean, in cultural 
and intellectual terms, is that every small meeting or 
working session is in reality just one temporarily active 
condensation of the immense and continuing process that is 
leading to the formation of a global public opinion and of a 
felt public space on a world scale, which may be called 
upon, in the near future, to resist the worst of what our 
governments and corporate oligarchs are now preparing. Such 
resistance, each time it becomes necessary, can happen only 
through cooperative events whose contours and distributed 
intelligence we ourselves will have to invent. That's what I 
call articulation. And what it suggests, in turn, is that 
what we say and do in such small meetings has more meaning 
and import than we are led to believe by the careerist and 
consumerist norms that have taken over the mediated surface 
of political spectacle.

Is it possible to fulfill a responsibility to this world 
conversation? Even in New York City at the heart of the 
financial district? We are proposing the Continental Drift 
experiment again because we believe it can have positive 
consequences, particularly in the arenas of art and activism 
that link most of us together. What we need, I think, is 
just for everyone who participates to take some small, 
self-assigned and untabulated responsibility for the 
practical unfolding of the event as it happens, and above 
all, to prepare in advance for the expression of a certain 
number of inquiries, activities and concerns, along with a 
readiness to listen to what all the others have prepared. We 
are organizing a "program" of contributions, as before; but 
experience shows that the program is only activated and made 
useful by the multiple proposals that undercut it, over-arch 
it and generally loosen the collective tongue, that feed the 
intellect and the imaginary. "Articulating the Cracks" is 
the theme. We have to find ways to make our activities more 
resonant. The shattering of old complacencies is at least an 
invitation to join all those who have taken the crisis of 
the present as a springboard.

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